English variety – an aspect of style

Following the theme of my last blog (also a theme in my first blog), here I deal with another aspect of style, namely, language variety. The term language variety covers aspects such as dialect, accent, spelling and punctuation, among others. While there are many varieties of English, such as,
Canadian English, Australian English and South African English, to name a few, British English and American English are the most-used varieties. At the end of this blog, I compare American English (AmE), British (BrE) English and South African English (SAE). In doing so, I focus on the main aspects of variety that apply to writing, rather than those that apply to speaking.


An important aspect of writing is considering your audience and the medium of delivery of your message, or text. This, in turn, will determine the language variety that you select. So, for example, if you are an academic based in the United States of America, writing an academic article that you hope to have published in a US-based academic journal, you will select US, or American, English as your language variety, assuming that the style guide of your target publication specifies this variety of English.


When you send your article to a copy-editor for editing, it would be useful for you to supply the style guide of your target publication, or to specify the language variety selected for your text.

In many respects South African English is similar to British English, but in others it resembles American English, for example, the -ize endings typical of American English (see ‘Spelling’, below). Because of this and their wide reading of American books, South African copy-editors are well positioned to edit texts in both British and American English. Furthermore, English is the native language of many South Africans.

These factors make South African editors an appealing option when choosing an editor for your text.

An added appeal of using a South African editor is the current favourable exchange rate for many countries. At the time of publication, the rand (ZAR) to dollar (USD) exchange rate is 10.7999:1; for the pound (GBP), it is 18.0070:1; and for the euro (EUR), it is 14.8457:1.  


With these factors in mind, it would be worthwhile for you to consider using a South African copy-editor for the next piece you write. 

Comparison of AmE, BrE and SAE
Here, I compare American English, British English and South African English under the headings ‘Spelling’, ‘Punctuation: quotation marks’ and ‘Diction’.

American English (AmE)
British English (BrE)
South African English (SAE)
Ending: -ize/-ise
predominantly organise, but also organize
predominantly organize, but also organise
Ending: -ence/-ense
Ending: -ize/-yse
Ending: -ogue/-og
predominantly catalog, but also catalogue
Ending: -our
Ending: -re
Ending: vowel plus -l

Spelling: double vowels


Punctuation: quotation marks
The most important difference among the three varieties discussed in terms of punctuation relates to the type of quotation marks used and the positioning of commas relative to the closing quotation mark.
In British and South African English, single quotation marks are used for quotes and titles of unpublished works, chapters of books, lectures, radio and television programmes, short musical works, short poems, short stories and songs. In American English, double quotation marks are used for these.
In British and South African English, single quotation marks are used for quotes, with double quotation marks used for quotes within quotes; in American English the reverse applies.
Concerning commas that form part of the punctuation of a passage – not of the quoted words – in British and South African English, these are placed outside of the closing quotation mark; in American English, these are placed within the closing quotation mark. 

The relative pronoun which is predominantly used in British English for both defining (or restrictive) and non-defining (or non-restrictive) relative clauses. In American English, the relative pronoun that is used for defining (or restrictive) relative clauses, and which is used for non-defining (or non-restrictive) relative clauses. South African English alternates between these two styles.

By Russell de la Porte
email: russell@writeart.com

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